ETHEL ZOE BAILEY
By Wayne L. Handlos, Ph.D
This is the last in our review of the lives of three people important in horticultural (and Pelargonium) history.
Ethel Zoe Bailey & her father, L. H. Bailey Ethel Zoe Bailey at work in the L.H. Bailey Hortorium
Ethel Zoe Bailey, the daughter of L.H. Bailey, and long-time colleague of H.E. Moore, Jr., was born in
Ithaca, New York on November 17, 1889 – shortly after her father took up a position at Cornell University.
She worked and resided in Ithaca, New York, until her death in 1983 at the age of 93.
She received a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Smith College in 1911. She returned to Ithaca and
Cornell University and began working for her father. She became a close collaborator and editor of his/
their work. In addition, she accompanied her father on several collecting trips abroad and served as his
field assistant in Latin America, China and Japan.
When her father, Liberty Hyde Bailey, came to Cornell in 1888 he began acquiring seed and nursery
catalogs from around the world. This collection now numbers over 134,000 “items.” In 1911 this collection
was turned over to Ethel Zoe Bailey, and she took care of it for the next 70+ years. After her
death, this collection was named in her honor. The collection continues to grow and is available for research
purposes. Originally L.H. Bailey used the catalogs for his research on cultivated plants. Over the
years it has been used in garden restoration projects as a source of appropriate varieties. It is useful to
document the introduction (and loss) of plant varieties. They also document modern sources for seeds
and plants. Overall the catalog collection documents the history of horticulture, cultivars available, tools
used, as well as chemical and pesticides available to gardeners.
Miss Bailey maintained a card catalog (3 x 5 index cards) of the plants, species and cultivars listed in the
catalogs, so that one could cross reference what was available. This information was used as the basis
for several references written by her father, co-authored with her father, or written by other members of
the L.H. Bailey Hortorium staff.
Ethel Zoe Bailey was the first herbarium curator for the Bailey Hortorium. She occupied this position from 1935 until her retirement in
1953. She then became a volunteer in the Hortorium and continued working daily until her death at age 93. She was the first woman in
Ithaca to receive a driver’s license and as a volunteer she continued to drive to and from work until her passing.
She was co-author of Hortus and Hortus II. She edited several volumes and botanical journals. She assisted in the compilation of
Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture and Manual of Cultivated Plants.
Upon the untimely deaths of her older sister and brother-in-law, she raised her teen-aged niece and nephew.
She was honored with a medal in 1967 from the Massachusetts Horticulture Society and by Smith College in 1970 – a truly remarkabl